On Sept. 20 Estonian ministers will debate whether to grant permission to a consortium of German and Russian corporations to conduct a geological survey of the seabed in Estonian territorial waters. The survey is necessary in order to build Nord Stream, a 1,200-kilometer pipeline that will pump natural gas directly from Russia to Germany. It is one of the most ambitious energy infrastructure projects ever undertaken, and since its inception in 2005 has stirred a great deal of controversy.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has pointed out that there are five reasons why the Baltic state could refuse to grant permission for the surveys, though as The Baltic Times was going to press it appeared that the ministry would recommend an approval.
Some government officials have argued that approval of the survey is not equivalent to permission to build and Estonia could benefit from a survey of its territorial seabed.
And as Paet has stressed, in the end any refusal to cooperate with the consortium must be based on objective reasons, and not caprice. Thus Estonia's indignation at Russia's reaction to the decision in April to relocate the Soviet war memorial is purely an emotion, while the cyber attacks on Estonia that were coordinated in Russia are not.
For the center-right government, it will not be an easy decision. Estonia is torn between various conflicting instincts: to be a good ally of Germany; to stand up to Russia, which in recent months has demonstrated an utter lack of goodwill toward the Baltic state; to safeguard its environment, which could be under threat; and to protect its territorial integrity.
Saying a categorical "no" to the project, now and forever, would be wrong. With the right technology and proper investments, a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea needn't pose an environmental threat. In the long term, it can't be excluded that Estonia and Finland will also want their own set of energy infrastructure connections across the Gulf of Finland. They've already laid down one high-voltage line and are keen on another.
Rather, the issue here is neighborly relations: does Russia, given its appalling track record toward Estonia, actually deserve permission to enter Estonia's territorial waters at all? Certainly not.
In an ideal world, Estonia would link permission for the survey with a holistic solution to Moscow's energy policy in the Baltics. In short, Moscow should first repair the pipeline to Mazeikiai in Lithuania, begin pumping crude to Ventspils and renew oil products deliveries to Estonia's ports, and then permission to conduct the studies of Estonia's territorial seabed can be granted. Moscow has chosen to punish each Baltic state for perceived injustices, when in fact the Kremlin simply chafes at its failure to use it new-found oil wealth to establish an economic foothold in the region (primarily through ownership of strategic assets such as the Lithuanian oil refinery and the Ventspils oil terminal).
The European Union, intoxicated by Russian hydrocarbons, has done little to intervene on the Baltics' behalf. First and foremost this concerns Germany. Now is the time to address this issue while Estonia is holding a rare trump card.
As things stand now, Estonia is under no obligation 's legal or moral 's to give its approval to these geological surveys. The lies and propaganda Russian media have spread about Estonia since April can in no way justify any gesture of support for a multi-billion dollar energy infrastructure in Estonian territory. Both Russia and Germany need to understand this, and Germany, if it is indeed an ally, needs to deliver this message to Moscow in no uncertain terms.